I love R.E.M., and I’m fascinated by the way the were so huge, both with critics and fans, and then just sort of … disappeared. It was a perfect exit, in a sense, though their cultural imprint should have been greater.
UP, the first album they recorded after the resignation of drummer Bill Berry, is one of the more controversial entries in their canon, but has had something of a re-evaluation of late. I think its biggest problem is that it lacks both form and focus, which is almost too on-the-nose for a band suddenly lacking its drummer.
I like how they wanted to experiment more, and starting the ball with one of the slowest, monotonous tracks the band ever recorded is admirable in its spirit of, well, WTF? , but doesn’t work beyond the theoretical. (XTC’s The Somnabulist went to the same place earlier, but is somehow a better track, or at least a better fit.)
So in the spirit of things, I’ve removed some tracks and re-arranged the rest somewhat. I think there are many solid songs here, and re-arranging the tracklist creates a better experience, at least in terms of listening pleasure, if not art. Airportman is gone, as are Suspicion and Falls to Climb. I almost included the latter, but it sounds so much like the other tracks that it feels superfluous.
Sad Professor is admittedly also a slow album opener, but it retains the spirit of the original release, whilst being more lively and making the transition into Lotus more natural. Parakeet was actually my original choice to open, but it made the album sound too much like Reveal.
(This is actually an interesting thing I realized after rearranging the tracks: UP now, uh, reveals itself as a far more natural precursor to 2001’s Reveal than I’d ever considered.)
Now placed solidly the middle, fully realized as the undisputed centerpiece, is the wonder that is At My Most Beautiful, the prettiest and most heartfelt of all the tracks here, and one of the finer songs the band ever committed to tape overall.
The remaining tracks now consist of, respectively, Walk Unafraid, Daysleeper, Hope, Diminished/I’m Not Over You and closes on Why Not Smile?. Going by the titles, Michael Stipe expressed both worry and insecurity quite plainly on UP, but in the rearranged tracklist, I feel it ultimately ends on a somewhat more hopeful and optimistic note.
- Sad professor
- The Apologist
- You’re in the air
- At my most beautiful
- Walk unafraid
- Diminished/ I’m not over you
- Why not smile